Unit 6: Groundwater Availability and Resources
Unit 6 activities support the module goals of being able to articulate the principles of environmental justice as they relate to examples of water scarcity and contamination using the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States as a case study. This unit also discusses potential solutions to inequitable access to clean water in the Ogallala.
The specific learning objectives for this unit align with the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages as follows:
- Interpersonal Communication: Spanish language learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken conversations to share information, reactions, and opinions about groundwater and its scarcity in the Southwestern United States.
Making Connections: Spanish language learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using Spanish to develop critical thinking. As part of this learners will be able to:
- discuss the relationship between the hydrological cycle and availability of groundwater resources
- predict if a regions' groundwater availability is of concern
- explain how groundwater resources can be depleted
- obtain data to assess changes in groundwater levels
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
Actividad para explorar los datos del USGS (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 5.4MB May19 16): This document walks students through the USGS groundwater data site and has them investigate groundwater depletion issues in a region of Texas. Email the document to students or give them electronic access via other means so that they can use the embedded links. Students should complete the activity and answer the questions prior to class in order to participate in the think-pair-share activity in class.
Answer key to Actividad para explorar los datos del USGS (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 5.4MB May19 16)
Group discussion (10 min)
Have students discuss the following concepts as an in-class think-pair-share activity using their pre-class activity results. Have students discuss the following questions in groups (broad answers are suggested):
Question: Over time what has happen to groundwater level in the area investigated? In your opinion, what was the reason for any changes? Con el paso del tiempo, ¿qué ha pasado con el nivel freático en el área investigada? En tu opinión, ¿por qué ocurrió cualquier cambio?
- Concept: Over time, groundwater levels have been decreasing in the study areas.
- In arid regions where water is scarce, groundwater is considered a valuable commodity. Groundwater may have taken thousands of years to fill up an aquifer in a previously wetter climate cycle. Unfortunately, in arid regions that have large aquifers and a shallow water table, the commodity is easily accessed and often leads to overuse and mismanagement. The data show that in many arid areas the water table has dramatically fallen because groundwater has been extracted faster than it can be replaced, and such usage produces draw-down effects.
- Question: Is agriculture (farming) the only reason for possible groundwater decline? If not, what other sources could be contributing to the decline? How do these sources use groundwater? ¿Es la agricultura la única causa de una posible reducción del agua subterránea? ¿Cuáles serían otras fuentes que podrían contribuir a la reducción del agua? ¿Cómo utilizan ellas el agua subterránea?
- Concept: Agriculture is not the only cause for groundwater depletion.
- The availability of easily accessible clean groundwater not only attracts large-scale agriculture, but also large populations and communities. Cities and communities need water in order to provide basic facilities to their customers. Sewage (waste treatment plants), electricity (water to cool the turbines), municipal parks (sprinklers, irrigation), and private residences (faucets, outside irrigation, pools, toilets, etc.) need water, and residents are often not aware of the amount they use on a daily basis. The lack of understanding of the amount of water used, where it comes from, and how it is allocated often leads to a community's misuse of water and the depletion of an aquifer. What might take hundreds of thousands of years for an aquifer to fill with annual rainfall may be completely drained in a matter of decades if the groundwater is mismanaged.
Groundwater depletion slides discussion (25 min)
The slides El agua subterránea -- Texas (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 4MB Oct19 15) include integrated class discussion. Notes on information and activities are included at the bottom of the slides of the presentation.
Water Conservation Activity (15 min)
A water conservation activity is embedded in the slides. Students will work in pairs with each of the students reading a separate article. One student will read the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (Acrobat (PDF) 305kB Oct19 15), a fact sheet created by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), designed to help landowners reduce water use. The second student will read the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative Progress Report (Acrobat (PDF) 3.2MB Oct19 15), which shows the status of the initiative, which has reduced water withdrawals from the Ogallala Aquifer by 489 billion gallons over four years. The Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) accounted for about 29 percent of this savings. Discussion questions are included in the slides.
Teaching Notes and Tips
The main objective of this unit is to have students comprehend the use, significance, and details of groundwater resources and their own connection to these resources via their water footprint—even if they do not live in the region of the Ogallala Aquifer. Many topics discussed in this unit can be expanded to help students comprehend the concept of groundwater issues. Some topics that can be discussed and integrated into additional assignments are:
- A further investigation of different regions of the Ogallala Aquifer (regions of increased groundwater level slide 9 map B) using the USGS website.
- An activity for students to calculate the water footprint of the food in a grocery bill, items on a restaurant receipt, or in their lunch, which can then be combined into their results for the activity done in Unit 2 calculating their daily water usage.
- Students can explore other conservation methods to save groundwater and give specific locations or communities that are implementing these techniques.
Homework assignment -- Use the Assessment Rubric Unit 6 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 107kB Apr30 16) on the following questions to determine level of comprehension.
Assessment question 1: Describe the significance of the Ogallala Aquifer to US agriculture and explain why agricultural production is concentrated in this region of the United States. How might the groundwater of the Ogallala Aquifer be connected to the hydrological cycle, and how can this connection/relationship be affected by overuse of the groundwater? What potential groups in society may be affected and why?
Describe la importancia del acuífero Ogallala para la agricultura de los EEUU y explica por qué la producción agrícola se concentra en esta región de los EEUU. ¿Cómo puede conectarse el agua subterránea del acuífero Ogallala con el ciclo del agua (el ciclo hidrológico) y cómo puede esta conexión ser afectada por el sobreuso del agua subterránea? ¿Cuáles son algunos grupos en la sociedad que pueden ser afectados y por qué?
Assessment question 2: Compare the issues of freshwater resources and environmental justice found in this unit with those found in one other part of the world we have studied. What do these two situations have in common? What strategies are required to resolve the conflicts over water in each case? What is the role that scientific research can play to help resolve these conflicts?
Compara los temas del agua y la justicia ambiental encontrados en esta unidad con los encontrados en otra parte del mundo que hemos estudiado. ¿Qué tienen en común las dos situaciones? ¿Cuáles son las estrategias que se requieren para resolver los conflictos sobre el agua en cada caso? ¿Cuál es el papel que la investigación científica puede jugar para ayudar a resolver estos conflictos?
To provide an opportunity for students to reflect on what they have learned in Unit 6, ask students to write one thing that they feel they have learned in this unit, or that seems particularly clear, and one thing that still seems confusing, unclear, or incomplete.
References and Resources
- Information from the nonprofit organization The Groundwater Foundation
- Barringer, Felicity (2011) Groundwater Depletion Detected from Space, New York Times
- News articles about California's groundwater from the University of California, Davis
- Ogallala Aquifer Initiative from the United States Department of Agriculture